Despite hopes of a solid start to 2010, the U.S. labor market stumbled into the new calendar year. Although payrolls aren’t declining at the rate they were a year ago, outside of a 64,000 gain in November employment has been falling non-stop since January 2008. In fact, today’s report showed job losses have totaled more than 8.4 million since the recession started, a 6.1 percent drop from the cyclical peak. While the unemployment rate dropped to 9.7 percent, perhaps the best indicator of the labor market’s health is the length of time in which the unemployed are out of a job. The median number of weeks unemployed did decline slightly from 20.5 to 19.9 in January, but the share of the labor force sitting idle for 27 weeks or longer climbed to more than 41 percent—yet another record high. Until net job creation resumes and reaches a pace of about 150,000 per month, these lengthy unemployment spells will remain a persistent problem and maybe even pose a danger to the recovery’s lasting power.

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